Sure, there’s a lot of us who break minor laws all the time. We’re running late for an appointment so we choose to drive over the speed limit, or maybe we’re being impatient that day and don’t want to wait for the “Walk” signal before we cross the street. Then there’s those of us who can’t wait to hit that reply button and shoot off a text as we’re driving home from work. It happens and we’ve all done it. In fact, some of us are breaking laws right now and we don’t even know it.

Watching YouTube Videos


Have you ever went on YouTube and typed in your favorite song? If you have, then there’s a good chance you’ve infringed on someone’s copyright. Now, in terms of the law, simply streaming the videos is more of a gray area. Chances are no one’s going to come to kick in your door for watching an illegally uploaded copy of Adele’s Hello, but it doesn’t mean it’s legal. If you go on to the next step and download the video to your computer, then congratulations, you are now in possession of someone’s copyrighted material and that can cost you around $750 per illegally downloaded clip.

Here’s where things get really hairy. Say you’re on YouTube and you track down your favorite song. On the clip there’s a link to a website offering to sell you the song for $0.99. You love the song so much that, rather than pirate a copy and break the law, you would much rather go the legal route and purchase it outright. So you go to the site and download your copy. Great, right? Well, that site you just purchased the song from was a company out of Russia that sells off illegally obtained songs for profit. Unbeknownst to you, honest music appreciator, you decide to download another 100 other songs. Now you’re in possession of 101 illegal music files and, even if you didn’t know that the website you were using to obtain these songs had not purchased the rights to sell these files, you could still be facing heft fines if the files are found in your possession.

Writing Disturbing Material


This one may not apply to all of us. I know I certainly don’t know anyone who would be responsible for writing “disturbing material” but if you happen to be one of these fiends then you may want to consider using a pen name, especially if you’re still a student. In some states just mentioning the murder of a fictional character can mean jail time.

Other works, especially if you’re in the business of writing sexually charged fiction, can have you cited for violating obscenity laws. Yes, those still exist. While they may seem like vestiges of a bygone era and primarily related to different forms of pornography, some writers of extremely graphic sexual content have been charged under these established laws.

Buying Cold Medication


The last thing anyone wants is to be arrested in the parking lot of a Walgreens while still wearing their pajamas, but buying certain cold medications can land you in serious hot water. Maybe you anticipate being sick for a while, or maybe you have coupons that allow you to pick up a certain OTC medication for way below retail price. Whatever the case may be, before you decide to stock up you may want to check your state’s restriction on the quantity of popular cold medications a person can legally purchase.

Across the nation we saw a rise in homegrown crystal meth labs and crystal meth use skyrocketed to become one of the most widely abused drugs. In order to counter the popularity of the drug, federal lawmakers passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, restricting retailers from selling more than 7.5g of pseudoephedrine to any single customer within a 30-day period and forcing retailers to keep a detailed log book of who is purchasing the medications in question. In order to prevent harsh penalties for undermining federal law, many retailers place their own restrictions way below federal limits. Additionally, in certain states laws are even more restrictive on OTC medication purchases than the federal mandated laws. Anyone found in violation of these laws can be arrested and investigated for the manufacture of crystal meth.

Providing a Fake Name on Internet


Listing your name as Z3r0 C001 may seem like a good idea for porn sites and when you are expressing controversial opinions that you may not want everyone to know about on internet message boards, but using a fake name on the internet is actually a federal offense. It seems ridiculous. After all, we instruct children not to give out their personal information to strangers – which may include their real name – but that good advice could potentially lead to legal action.

Typically these cases are pursued when the person responsible for the account has used it to harass or even impersonate another user, but technically any violation of a website’s terms of service agreement – those big long documents that we’re always presented with, but never actually read when signing up for a service – can be considered computer hacking. Those found guilty of violating a website’s terms of service agreement can face up to five years in prison.

Connecting to WiFi Networks


I’ll spare you the lecture on why it’s generally not a good idea to connect to unsecured wireless access points, and stick with the legality of it for now.

It’s called “piggybacking” and if you’re located near a restaurant that offers a WiFi hotspot or happen to live in an apartment complex with at least one tenant with an unsecured network, then there’s a good chance you’re officially a computer hacker. It might not be something we’d traditionally attribute as “hacking,” since all it requires is for you to connect to an unsecured connection without permission from the owner – something we may not even realize we’re doing if our phone is configured to automatically connect to any open WiFi signals within range – but can come with fines, and possible jail time.

Most of us can rest easy, since piggybacking is difficult to detect and often not pursued unless you’re doing something that could potentially catch the attention of law enforcement, but it’s still important to be aware of the potential repercussions we could be facing.